Don't Be a Word Bore: Alternative Ways to Say "Eat"

If you’re feeling hungry you certainly won’t be short of words to help you express that in English! There are lots of words that you can use to describe eating – from eating lots to snacking on just a little.

Here are some words and phrases you can use to expand your eating vocabulary when you speak English.

The way we eat:

Eating quickly

Wolf down – here’s one of many phrases relating to food that compares the way we eat to an animal, in this case the wolf. Wolves are animals that feed excitedly when prey is laid out in front of them. They hunt for their prey, which can be scarce, and so when a human ‘wolfs down’ their food they’re said to resemble a hungry wolf.

Gobble up – English is a funny language isn’t it? We wolf down, but we gobble up – and both mean the same thing: to eat fast. To gobble means to eat hungrily and hastily. This time it could be that we’re being compared to a bird – a goose, heron or turkey, gobbling food down its long neck. The gob is an old word for the mouth, and it could also be that gobble is used as a word that imitates the sound of a goose or turkey as it eats.

Scoff – this word doesn’t just mean to eat quickly, it infers that the eater is also eating greedily. It dates all the way back to 1846, an alteration to the dialect word scaff meaning to eat greedily. For example: he scoffed his dinner.

Inhaled – now, we know you can’t actually inhale food – if you did you’d definitely choke. However, this is an informal turn of phrase you’ll hear people use when they’re talking about eating very fast. For example: I was so hungry I practically inhaled that burger! Here it’s almost as if the food is turned to air and is breathed in, the food goes down so fast.

Choked down – this turn of phrase also means to eat quickly, but the image created by this phrase suggests some discomfort. Choking is painful, so it’s as if the eater is being forced to eat fast. For example, when you have a limited time for your lunch break: I had to choke down my lunch so I could make it back to the office in time for the meeting.

Eating slowly

Graze – again we have some more animalistic words. Grazing is what cattle and sheep do when they feed on grass in the fields. So if you graze it means you’re taking your time, eating slowly and lazily all day or all evening long, typically snacking on little amounts. It’s the way you might eat when you’re staying in all night snacking in front of the TV.

Nibble – like a mouse nibbles at cheese or a squirrel nibbles at nuts, if we nibble on our food it means we take our time and only eat a small amount. As well as being used as a verb meaning to eat slowly, a nibble can also be an eating noun meaning a snack, or small portion of food.

Peck at – and here our eating habits are being compared to birds. Typically birds that peck at seeds or crumbs eat very little amounts with their small beaks. When we feel peckish it means we feel a little hungry, and when we peck at our food it means we eat it slowly in small mouthfuls and may not even finish it all.

How much we eat:

Eating lots

Gorge – a gorge is commonly known as a noun meaning a deep passageway between two steep rocky sides, like a cliff. Now imagine if your throat was that big! You could fit a lot of food in there, right? That’s why to gorge means to overeat, and it comes from the Old French word gorge meaning the throat.

Pig out – this is an American slang term that means to eat large amounts of food quickly and without good manners, just like pigs do at a trough.

Clean your plate – this is something you might do when you’re really hungry – and whoever is supposed to do the washing up that night will be pretty pleased with you, because it means to eat so much food that you completely clear your plate, leaving it squeaky clean. You could also say lick your plate too.

As an exclamation

Eat can be used a part of an exclamation, such as a mum or dad shouting “Kids, it’s time to eat!” when their dinner is ready. Some alternatives to this use of the word eat include:

Tea’s up!

Grub’s up!

Food’s ready!

Come and get it!

Have we missed out any of your favourite eating words from the English language? And how does your first language compare with English when it comes to eating – do you have as many words and phrases that are related to animals in your mother tongue? Let us know in the comments below!